Real-time updates keep waiting guests under control

waitlists app graphic

Soon, even more consumers will realize that they can put themselves on restaurants’ waitlists remotely. News broke mid-August that one of the larger waitlist app suppliers had partnered with Yelp. As part of the deal, the tech provider is bringing the waitlist experience inside the Yelp app for its customers. So for restaurants that use that app, it means potentially increasing the number of consumers they reach. 

These programs have been a hot space in recent years, with startups competing to help restaurants manage the crowds. For now, many independents and smaller operations using waitlist management apps stick to a basic model—and those off-the-shelf options still seem to be helping business. Sophia’s Thai Kitchen in Davis, Calif., for example, now retains 75% to 80% of its customers on the waitlist, compared with only 50% when using a paper list before.

Kevin Wan, owner of Sophia’s, sifted through apps offering a range of add-ons such as table management and trend-tracking analytics. “We really were looking for something simple, that would emulate paper and pencil,” he says. He opted for a solution that allows hosts to add guests’ names to the list and offer an app-generated wait estimate. Customers can check their position in line via a public waitlist, and they receive a text or call when the table is ready.

What’s missing, says Wan, is two-way texting—a way to communicate directly with guests if circumstances change. It’s those kind of tailored features that lead some operations to more custom (and pricey) waitlist solutions.

Chili’s, for example, worked with a supplier to white label a branded app that launched last year. Because Chili’s knew it had the customer base to support its own app, it tweaked pre-existing software to suit its needs. In fact, Chili’s supplier was chosen because it was “willing to make changes based on what we needed,” says Wade Allen, VP of digital innovation and customer engagement at Chili’s parent company Brinker.

Now, customers can search local Chili’s units to see which has the shortest wait, and remotely add themselves to the list. Another custom feature also was built into the API: granular time blocks. Guests now can see their table at Chili’s will be available in 12 minutes, not 10 to 15. “Before, what hosts tended to do was over-quote and tell a guest it would be 20 minutes when maybe it’s really 11 minutes, because they don’t want to anger a guest if it’s a little off,” Allen says. “Now our wait times are more accurate.”

But getting that accuracy relied on total buy-in. “One of the key things we learned was that it wasn’t plug-and-play, in that we needed a sizable amount of lifting to teach team members,” Allen says. “Wait times [generated by the app and given to customers] are totally based on inputs into the system, so if the app isn’t continually used, the data isn’t accurate.” That meant training all hosts and servers to continually update the waitlist platform with what’s going on in the dining room. 

Today's top stories

1
While Asian fare, from Japanese noodle bowls to Korean fried chicken, is a huge hit with today’s consumers, its popularity is only going to continue to boom. Technomic’s 2017 Top 500 Chains...
2
Domino’s proved once again it’s dodging the sales slowdown hamstringing other restaurant operations, posting a 10.2% domestic same-store sales gain for the first quarter. The leap in sales follows a...
3
The Food and Drug Administration is pushing back enforcement of menu labeling requirements for chain restaurants and retailers from the scheduled start day of May 5, according to a group lobbying for...
4
Cash may still be king, but a huge asterisk is being slapped atop that truism as it applies to restaurants. The number of places looking to forgo currency and accept only cashless payments, and app-...
5
It is a commendable goal to look at performance metrics to make sure your employees are performing to their potential and have incentive to excel. On the surface, there is nothing preventing an...
6
Much like food trucks before them, food halls are the new go-to format for incubating a restaurant concept. Chef Andrew Gruel knows this well. Gruel’s California-based fast-casual sustainable fish...
7
After revealing dramatic indications that a sales rebound is underway , Chipotle acknowledged more misfortune yesterday, warning customers that some personal information may have been swiped by...
8
Chipotle proved today its recovery drive is finding traction , posting a same-store sales gain of 17.8% for the first quarter of 2017 and an expansion of store-level operating margins to 17.7%,...
9
With more consumers expressing an interest in “free-from” foods and wanting to know the origin of their next meal, operators across segments are taking a more transparent approach to menu creation...
10
Consumers continue to show interest in clean, natural ingredients on restaurant menus. It’s easy to see why: Mandatory nutrition labeling for chain restaurant menus has pushed the idea of...